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For a song, she leads all-boys club

Conductor, 83, marks 51st year

By Alex Bowers, Boston Globe, March 19, 2006

Florence A. ''Flossie" Dunn listens intently, checks the score in front of her, and with a wave of her hand brings

silence to the room.

It's Tuesday night, and the Apollo Club, a venerable men's choral group, has been rehearsing for an hour in

the main music hall of the Harvard Musical Association on Chestnut Street on Beacon Hill.

The group is preparing for a concert the following week, and Dunn, 83, is putting the men through their paces.

She sits in regal splendor, with a grand piano behind her. In front of her, a semicircle of men concentrate on

the music and her direction.

This year marks Dunn's 51st with the Apollo Club. She began as a piano accompanist in 1955 and became

conductor in 1968.

John Dineen, 78, joined the club in 1951, when he came to Boston to attend law school. He recalled the reaction

of one member when Dunn first appeared to accompany the group at a rehearsal.

''A.B.C. Brown. . . . He was British and was in the Boer War with Winston Churchill," Dineen said. ''He was an

old-timer, and it was a change for him to have a female in the group as the accompanist. She stepped into the

role and very soon won us over. She has a way to get the best out of our group of people who love to sing."

According to Blasdell Reardon, an Apollo Club member from 1992 to 2004, Dunn once told him that she had to

enter the private venues -- such as the Union, Algonquin, and Somerset clubs -- through the kitchen because

they were exclusively men's clubs.

Things have certainly changed.

''Women are [threatened] by the fraternity of men; we are too competitive," Dunn said. ''I was an only

daughter. I have two brothers, and I'm not intimidated by men. They're like third-grade kids; they drop their

music."

Laurence Sloss, a cardiologist at Children's Hospital who has sung with the club for roughly 20 years, said,

''She's been here since I came, so the only era I know is the Flossie era.

''She trained junior high school students and third-graders, and that's about right for dealing with aging

gentlemen," Sloss said. ''At our best, we're pretty good. When we're not, we're forgiven."

Anthony Polito, a relative newcomer to the group, recalls that his father died soon after he joined the club in

January 2001.

''All of the guys circulated a sympathy card," he said. ''Flossie barely knew me, and she made a point of coming

to my father's memorial service.

''She's been affiliated with the group for 50 out of 140 years of its existence," said Polito, adding that one year

the club gave her a Christmas present with a note that read ''a gift from your 30 boyfriends."

''My wife says, 'How's my rival for your affections?' " he said. ''And I know she's not the only wife who says

that."

Rob Humphreville has been the club's accompanist for the last 15 years. ''Late one summer she said, 'I'd like

you to come over and meet my boys and play piano for them,' " he said. ''I wasn't sure what it was about, but

the next Tuesday I went to HMA and I've been there ever since."

Dunn ''can sing soprano, alto, tenor, and bass," Humphreville said. ''She can point [to an] example and help

baritones with their lines. I think one thing that stuck with me is that she has boundless energy and

enthusiasm."

Dunn, who said that she has led ''the life of an itinerant musician," played the organ in church at age 12 in

Williamstown and was awarded a full music scholarship at Larson Junior College outside New Haven, now

Quinnipiac University.

After working in the music department at the Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y., Dunn came to the New

England Conservatory in Boston and earned a bachelor's of music in organ in 1950. There she trained with the

legendary Lorna Cook de Varon, a doyenne among choral conductors.

Dunn was assistant to George Faxon at Trinity Church for 26 years, where she conducted the Canterbury

Chorus and sang in the professional choir. She was on the faculty at Tanglewood for 13 summers and sang in

all choral activities there.

Dunn earned a master's degree in music education in 1971 and retired from the Brookline schools after 20

years of teaching music at the elementary level. Today she is the accompanist for the Coolidge Corner

Community Chorus and the minister of music at Faith Lutheran Church in Cambridge. Dunn serves the New

England Conservatory on the alumni council and is a member of the school's beneficent society.

Dunn does all this in addition to Tuesday nights with the Apollo Club. From the edge of the room the light is

golden, from the yellow velvet drapes to the gilt frames of pastoral scenes to the brass chandeliers. The last

lines of a song called ''The Lost Chord" fill the room, and Dunn cautions the singers to breathe as they sing

''Amen" again and again, and their voices trail softly into silence.

Florence A. ''Flossie" Dunn listens intently, checks the score in front of her, and with a wave of her hand brings

silence to the room.

It's Tuesday night, and the Apollo Club, a venerable men's choral group, has been rehearsing for an hour in

the main music hall of the Harvard Musical Association on Chestnut Street on Beacon Hill.

The group is preparing for a concert the following week, and Dunn, 86, is putting the men through their paces.

She sits in regal splendor, with a grand piano behind her. In front of her, a semicircle of men concentrate on

the music and her direction.

This year marks Dunn's 51st with the Apollo Club. She began as a piano accompanist in 1955 and became

conductor in 1968.

John Dineen, 78, joined the club in 1951, when he came to Boston to attend law school. He recalled the reaction

of one member when Dunn first appeared to accompany the group at a rehearsal.

''A.B.C. Brown. . . . He was British and was in the Boer War with Winston Churchill," Dineen said. ''He was an

old-timer, and it was a change for him to have a female in the group as the accompanist. She stepped into the

role and very soon won us over. She has a way to get the best out of our group of people who love to sing."

According to Blasdell Reardon, an Apollo Club member from 1992 to 2004, Dunn once told him that she had to

enter the private venues -- such as the Union, Algonquin, and Somerset clubs -- through the kitchen because

they were exclusively men's clubs.

Things have certainly changed.

''Women are [threatened] by the fraternity of men; we are too competitive," Dunn said. ''I was an only

daughter. I have two brothers, and I'm not intimidated by men. They're like third-grade kids; they drop their

music."

Laurence Sloss, a cardiologist at Children's Hospital who has sung with the club for roughly 20 years, said,

''She's been here since I came, so the only era I know is the Flossie era.

''She trained junior high school students and third-graders, and that's about right for dealing with aging

gentlemen," Sloss said. ''At our best, we're pretty good. When we're not, we're forgiven."

Anthony Polito, a relative newcomer to the group, recalls that his father died soon after he joined the club in

January 2001.

''All of the guys circulated a sympathy card," he said. ''Flossie barely knew me, and she made a point of coming

to my father's memorial service.

''She's been affiliated with the group for 50 out of 140 years of its existence," said Polito, adding that one year

the club gave her a Christmas present with a note that read ''a gift from your 30 boyfriends."

''My wife says, 'How's my rival for your affections?' " he said. ''And I know she's not the only wife who says

that."

Rob Humphreville has been the club's accompanist for the last 15 years. ''Late one summer she said, 'I'd like

you to come over and meet my boys and play piano for them,' " he said. ''I wasn't sure what it was about, but

the next Tuesday I went to HMA and I've been there ever since."

Dunn ''can sing soprano, alto, tenor, and bass," Humphreville said. ''She can point [to an] example and help

baritones with their lines. I think one thing that stuck with me is that she has boundless energy and

enthusiasm."

Dunn, who said that she has led ''the life of an itinerant musician," played the organ in church at age 12 in

Williamstown and was awarded a full music scholarship at Larson Junior College outside New Haven, now

Quinnipiac University.

After working in the music department at the Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y., Dunn came to the New

England Conservatory in Boston and earned a bachelor's of music in organ in 1950. There she trained with the

legendary Lorna Cook de Varon, a doyenne among choral conductors.

Dunn was assistant to George Faxon at Trinity Church for 26 years, where she conducted the Canterbury

Chorus and sang in the professional choir. She was on the faculty at Tanglewood for 13 summers and sang in

all choral activities there.

Dunn earned a master's degree in music education in 1971 and retired from the Brookline schools after 20

years of teaching music at the elementary level. Today she is the accompanist for the Coolidge Corner

Community Chorus and the minister of music at Faith Lutheran Church in Cambridge. Dunn serves the New

England Conservatory on the alumni council and is a member of the school's beneficent society.

Dunn does all this in addition to Tuesday nights with the Apollo Club. From the edge of the room the light is

golden, from the yellow velvet drapes to the gilt frames of pastoral scenes to the brass chandeliers. The last

lines of a song called ''The Lost Chord" fill the room, and Dunn cautions the singers to breathe as they sing

''Amen" again and again, and their voices trail softly into silence.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.

 
 

A Men's Chorus Founded in 1871